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Hudson River Almanac April 1 - April 7, 2008

OVERVIEW

April is the time of the year for "firsts," and this week had plenty of them: river herring, shad, flowers, warblers, osprey, butterflies, woodchucks, and in no fewer than 22 huge nests along Hudson tidewater, the first bald eaglets!

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/6 - Tappan Zee, HRM 27: In our overnight gill nets we caught our first river herring (alewives) and first American shad, one nice plump roe shad, of the season. Dinner!
- Robert Gabrielson Sr.

[Since its inception, the Hudson River Almanac has reported the first American shad caught in the estuary each spring, usually by a commercial fishing net. The dates have ranged from March 26 to April 18, reflecting late winters, early springs, and extreme conditions on the river. Water temperature seems to be a contributing factor; the shad appear when temperatures hit 40 - 48 degrees F. Also affecting the date is the dwindling number of shad netters. For example, 20 years ago the first commercial nets shad encountered were in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor; today they might not meet a net for another week and 30 miles or more up the river. Regardless of when the first one is caught, they probably are in the river by late March every year. With shad stocks in steep decline and a long and rich tradition of Hudson River shad fishing on the verge of disappearing, the first shad should be celebrated as it kindles hope for renewal of the population and the fishery. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/1 - Kinderhook, HRM 128: The snow geese I reported 5 days ago were now settled on the top of the hill behind our house. I wondered why the snow hadn't melted up there yet until I got a closer look!
- Cris Winters

4/1 - Columbia County, HRM 118: We caught a Jefferson's salamander on a road in Hillsdale tonight. We happened to look at its feet and discovered that the front left foot had seven toes! The two outer toes had "split" to form the extra digits. A quick search of the internet indicated that polydactyly is not uncommon in some New York salamanders (spotted salamanders) and known from tiger salamanders as well. There was no specific mention of this condition in Jefferson's salamanders, but they all are close relatives.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt, Caroline Wise

4/1 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We spotted an adult bald eagle perched at the mouth of the Indian Kill this morning and a pair of pileated woodpeckers flying along one of the park's access roads.
- Laurie Fila

4/1 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: A little brown bat fluttered over my yard today at sunset. I was glad to see they're not all dead.
- Peter Fanelli

[Researchers have found wintering bats in the Northeast with a mysterious white fungus around their muzzles and occasionally on other parts of their bodies. Many bats have died. It has been named "white-nose syndrome" and the attributed mortality has exceeded 90% in some caves. The affected bats seem to have had low fat reserves, insufficient to keep them alive through the winter. The fungus is likely opportunistic, moving in after an unknown malady has already weakened them. Since the fungus on the bats is one normally found in caves, the illness probably begins as something else and the fungus just takes advantage of a sick animal. While the exact cause is largely unknown, some of the possibilities offered by experts include climate and seasonal changes possibly due to climate change, disrupted hibernation cycles, and the effects of pesticides. Ellen Rathbone, Erik Kiviat, Bob Schmidt.]

4/1 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: On a very mild night we heard our first spring peepers.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

4/1 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: Poughkeepsie High School teachers and students helped us set our glass eel fyke net in the lower reach of the Fall Kill. As we were pounding rebar into the shaley bedrock, I heard 2 fish crows calling. I sometimes go a year or more without hearing any fish crows and yet this was the third pair I had heard in the last month. An omen of fish to come? The Fall Kill was 48 degrees F, considerably warmer than the river just 200 feet away (41 degrees). These east side tributaries drain warm uplands, while the Hudson is still carrying remnants of ice and snow meltwater from the Adirondacks.
- Mark Vangorden, Lisa DiMarzo, Gwen Saylor, Chris Bowser, Angela Anderson, Tom Lake

[In a pilot project this spring, the Hudson River Estuary Program and Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve are involving students from several Hudson Valley schools in research on migration of glass eels into Hudson River tributaries (see 4/7 below). The students will strengthen their science education by doing real field research, and their efforts will expand our knowledge of eel migration, building on work done in recent years on Hunter's Brook in the Town of Wappinger and the Saw Kill in Annandale. Chris Bowser, Steve Stanne.]

4/1 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Rough-winged swallows were dipping and soaring over Pine Lake today. Daffodils are now in bloom and it's time to plant the peas!
- Christopher Letts

4/2 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Even a single day of strong west-northwest winds can produce a blowout tide. We were still two hours from low tide and yet the water in Hunter's Brook barely wet the bottoms of my waders. Ordinarily the water would be knee-deep.
- Tom Lake

4/2 - Town of Wappinger: While the view from the new eagle nest (NY62B) is impressive, it is entirely exposed to the elements. Overnight we had a serious, albeit brief, storm. It lasted only ten minutes but featured thunder, lightning, quarter-inch hail in torrents, winds gusting over 50 mph, and driving rain. It may have been a straight-line storm or even a micro-burst heading through; it made a roar like a train coming that never quite arrives. During those ten minutes, NY62B would have been a frightening place to be. The tall tulip tree already bears the jagged scar of a previous lighting strike. At dawn this morning the nest was empty. Mama no longer was sitting on eggs. By mid-morning I found her sitting in the old nest sheltered by a stand of white pines.
- Tom Lake

4/2 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 27: Our little tidal wetland keeps producing surprises. Twice a day it fills and empties through a culvert under the railroad tracks and is also fed by the runoff from Fremont Pond. I spotted two tall waders today, a great egret and a great blue heron. The heron left, flying away on slow-flapping giant wings. The egret followed a short while later, flying out over the Hudson, then returning to the muddy shallows to continue its stalking.
- Doug Maass

4/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We lost 3" of snow and were now down to 27". I saw a flash of bird this morning that didn't look familiar from recent months. It was a common flicker, probably reassessing its arrival as it stared at the snow.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/3 - Stockport Creek, HRM 121.5: An adult bald eagle greeted me and my little red kayak at the mouth of the Stockport Creek today. It seems I wasn't alone as I searched for spawning river herring. Stockport Creek is one of nine tributaries selected as a study site by the NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit Spring Volunteer River Herring Monitoring program. Volunteers from the Kinderhook Watershed Alliance are assisting by going to the site a couple of times a week for 15 minutes to record their observations. To learn how you can become an integral part of studying how river herring use the Hudson River, visit www.dec.ny.gov/animals/41545.html .
- Fran Martino

4/3 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: There was a nice display of male white suckers today vying for the attention of a larger female under the Water Street bridge on the Fall Kill.
- Chris Bowser

4/3 - Town of Wappinger: Magnolia and forsythia were showing color, daffodils were close, and bluebirds sprang up from my feet as I slowly walked the ridge line over the Hudson toward our eagle nests. The colors and images made it seem like a Disney cartoon. But my good cheer was dampened when I found that both eagles nests, the old and the new, were empty. I am now as confused as the mated bald eagle pair seem to be.
- Tom Lake

4/3 - Town of Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: The lower of the two vernal pools I reported on last week now has many wood frog eggs and, where communal breeding was taking place last week, there are now many adjacent clusters of eggs. There is still some breeding but not as frantic as last week. Spring peepers could be heard from the center of the pool and schools of fairy shrimp of all sizes were along the sides. The upper pool is really a fen with many smaller and connected pools. In these, wood frogs were actively breeding and laying eggs. This evening, after two days of rain, many of these pools were filled with spotted salamanders, at least 100 in each pool, actively courting.
- John R. Mort

4/4 - Gardiner, HRM 73: On our walk today we spotted our first warbler of the spring, a yellow-rumped, as well as cedar waxwings, a saw-whet owl sitting in a tree cavity, and a garter snake.
- Rebecca Houser, Brian Houser

4/4 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: We had our first real "haul" of glass eels in our net this afternoon: six! The creek was running pretty strong.
- Chris Bowser

4/4 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: After a cold, hard driving rain, the water temperature in Hunter's Brook fell from 51 degrees F to 44 overnight. Each season that I work in tidal tributaries, I gain more respect for the resiliency of the cold-blooded creatures that live there.
- Tom Lake

4/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: We were giving our field archaeology students a tour of the prehistoric rockshelters at Bowdoin Park when an osprey flew in from the river, did a pirouette over the sports field (a former Woodland Indian village, sand-mined during WWI), and then disappeared over the trees. Later, on a path near the river, we came upon the forward half of a large white catfish lying in the dirt. It was probably dropped by a bald eagle and, since the "best parts" of the fish were missing, the evidence pointed to a male eagle. They are known for eating the best parts of a fish before sharing with nestlings.
- Tom Lake, Stephanie Roberg-Lopez

4/5 - Putnam County, HRM 55: As we drove along the Taconic Parkway we spotted 3 woodchucks (ground hogs, whistle pigs) actively eating grass. Now we really believe that spring has arrived in the Hudson Valley.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt

4/5 - Yonkers, HRM 18: We were walking along the shore at the Beczak Environmental Center today when we spotted a small dead fish in the mud. We had to investigate. It turned out to be a juvenile (117 mm) spotted hake (Urophysis regia). We don't think of this species as being common in the Hudson estuary, so we were surprised to find one. This specimen was preserved and is now on its way to the New York State Museum collection in Albany.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt

[The spotted hake is one of eight members of the cod family (Gadidae) documented for the Hudson River estuary. Among the other seven are some familiar names such as the Atlantic cod, the Atlantic tomcod, and pollock, as well as silver hake ("whiting"), red hake ("ling"), white hake, and fourbeard rockling. All are considered to be marine strays except for the tomcod, a migratory diadromous species that enters the estuary each fall to spawn under the winter ice. Tom Lake.]

4/6 - Feura Bush, Albany County, HRM 135: I was hanging out laundry for the first time this year when I spied something in the sky. Way up in the sky, just soaring around, the sun hit it just right and there was no mistaking the white head and tail. It was an adult bald eagle, the first I've seen and I have been looking. I watched as it soared toward the southwest. I wonder if it was headed to the Albany Alcove Reservoir, or possibly Onesquethaw Creek, just a quarter mile away.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

4/6 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Our research net shared the narrow confines of Hunter's Brook this evening with a pair of gorgeous wood ducks. We had a nice collection of 22 glass eels but I felt guilty having to roust the wood ducks to get at them.
- Tom Lake

4/6 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 38: Word came in from the river today that a netter had caught the first "bunker" (menhaden) of the spring. There was a time when the initial appearance of mossbunker, a marine herring, signaled the beginning of the end of the shad season. This year is coincided with the start.
- Robert Gabrielson Sr.

[Atlantic menhaden are a species of herring that spawn in salt to brackish water. Adults, also known regionally as mossbunker or pogies, and their young-of-the-year, known colloquially as peanut bunker or penny bunker, are found by the millions in the estuary in summer, providing forage for striped bass, bluefish, osprey, eagles and seals. Tom Lake.]

4/7 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We are at 21" at the snow stick, down 4" since yesterday! Rotting snow is everywhere, and roadsides are deep in sand left behind by the disappearing snowbanks. I heard the honk of a couple of Canada geese last night and again this morning, but I have yet to see a flock flying overhead.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/7 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: As the sun set over Wappinger Creek tidewater, five Roy C. Ketcham High School A.P. Biology and Environment students helped us check our eel net in Hunter's Brook. This was the evening after the new moon and with the strong tides and rise in water temperature (52 degrees F) we had high hopes. We felt more than saw the elusive glass eels in the bag of the net and carefully moved them to our collection bucket to be counted and weighed. We put 9 of them into a small glass jar and then watched as they performed an enthralling ballet, a graceful writhing. As dusk arrived and we re-set the net preparing to leave, a single little brown bat (Myotis) flitted among us along the narrow stream corridor.
- Chris Bowser, Samantha Deger, Jennifer Edwards, Amanda Faughnan, Kathryn Goerge, Kayla Rath, Tom Lake

[Glass eels arrive by the millions in the estuary each spring following a six-month to year-long journey from the greater Sargasso Sea area of the North Atlantic where they are born. Glass eel is a colloquial name, owing to their lack of pigment and near transparency. These are juvenile American eels returning to the estuaries of their ancestors along the east coast of North America. In anywhere from 12-30 years, depending upon their sex, they will leave the Hudson River watershed for the sea where we believe they will spawn once and then die. Tom Lake.]

4/7 - Newburgh, HRM 61: From a hilltop along the river in mid-afternoon, I was able to see "the river that flows both ways." At the top of the flood tide, during the reversal of the current from flood to ebb, the inshore waters were already a turbid tan. The physics of the near shore shallows had prompted the current to change to an ebb there while out in the deeper mid-river, with more inertia to overcome, the clear current was still flooding upstream.
- Tom Lake

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